It’s not easy climbing to the top of the class when it comes to covering education. Administrators hide behind red tape. Teachers avoid interviews because they fear reprisals if they talk about problems. Privacy rules block access to students. These roadblocks make the following stories even more impressive because their writers kept pushing until they revealed what’s really going on with our schools.
Who’s driving the kids?
Randy Ludlow and Jill Riepenhoff of The Columbus Dispatch uncovered gaping holes in the system Ohio school districts use to screen their bus drivers. Their “Fit to Drive?” investigation found that 167 drivers with DUI or drug-related license suspensions drive, or drove recently, for Ohio schools and Head Start programs.
Ludlow and Riepenhoff filled their story with potent examples, such as the Columbus bus driver whose license had been suspended three times and who’d received 10 tickets, including three for speeding, since 2000. www.dispatch.com/news-story.php?story=dispatch/2007/02/11/20070211-A1-01.html
Are charter schools a good or bad idea? Vicki McClure and Mary Shanklin of the Orlando Sentinel moved beyond the heated rhetoric to take a cool look at how Florida’s more than 300 charter schools are actually performing.
In their four-part series, “Charter Schools: Missing the Grade,” McClure and Shanklin revealed that some charter schools are helping their students while others are run by people with no educational background who take taxpayer money without needing to prove positive results. As a result, McClure and Shanklin found, charter schools account for about a quarter of the state’s failing grades even though they teach only 3 percent of the students.
The stories are full of examples of Florida’s lack of oversight, such as one charter school that for five years was allowed to hire its students out for road crews. Tom Burton’s photos add a nice human touch to the stories. www.orlandosentinel.com/news/orl-special-charterschools,0,7628942.htmlpage
The tests scores of more than 50,000 Texas students show evidence of cheating, especially on a high-stakes exam required for graduation, The Dallas Morning News discovered.
Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker’s three-part “Faking the Grade” investigation analyzed data to show that, in some schools, 90 percent of the students had suspicious answer patterns on their tests but escaped detection and punishment by state officials.
One in 10 juniors was flagged for having extremely suspicious answer patterns at more than 100 high schools, they reported. At one charter school, Hacker and Benton wrote, the answer sheets of only two out of 53 sophomores didn’t show signs of cheating.
The Web package allows readers to compare the answers between a cheating and a noncheating school, answer questions from one of the exams and use a map to find the locations of the suspicious schools. www.dallasnews.com/investigativereports/taks_cheat
Passing the trash
Hundreds of Florida teachers have molested, physically attacked or harassed their students but been allowed to continue in the classroom, according to reporters at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
The “Broken Trust” series by Chris Davis, Matthew Doig and Tiffany Lankes investigated how these teachers managed to keep slipping through the system. They reported that many schools, when confronted with evidence of misconduct, ask teachers to quietly resign instead of firing them, enabling them to find a new job in a process known as “passing the trash.”
Davis, Doig and Lankes spent two years reviewing more than 14,000 teacher records to develop this story. It’s full of astounding examples and careful analysis of why the system for protecting students is broken. The terrific Web package for these stories comes with an interactive map that allows readers to look for instances of abuse in their communities. www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?CATEGORY=MULTIMEDIA0202